By Antonio Ray Harvey
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill to help locate missing Black youth and Black women in the state.
Senate Bill 673, authored by state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, provides a notification system to address the often ignored or lack of attention given to Black children and Black women that go missing in California.
“I am signing Senate Bill 673,” Newsom said in an Oct. 8 statement. “I thank the Legislature for highlighting this important issue, addressing well-documented disproportionality in the number of children of color who go missing every year.”
SB 673 authorizes a law enforcement agency to request that an ebony alert be activated if that agency determines that it would be an effective tool in the investigation of a missing Black youth or Black women between the ages of 12 and 25 years.
The U.S. population is 14% Black. Black children are disproportionately classified as “runaways” in comparison to their white counterparts who are classified as “missing” and, therefore, many Black children do not receive the Amber Alert.
“It’s very important to have the ebony alert because far too often when Black women and children go missing there is little to no publicity which hinders the effort to find them,” said Kellie Todd Griffin, founder and executive officer of the California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment Institute. “I applaud Senator Bradford for bringing this forward and the governor for signing the Ebony Act into law. Now we have to be diligent to ensure it is implemented effectively into practice.”
According to the Black and Missing Foundation Inc., 38% of children reported missing in the U.S. are Black. The foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color. It provides resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends and educates the minority community about personal safety.
AMBER — the moniker that stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response — was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and murdered while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas.
Similar to Amber Alert, California has an existing law that authorizes the issuance and coordination of a “silver alert” relating to a person who is 65 years of age or older, developmentally disabled or cognitively impaired who is reported missing.
The “feather alert,” relating to an endangered indigenous person who has been reported missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances, is also on the books.
Newsom did note “broader concerns” he had with SB 673 and expressed them to Bradford. His administration questioned standards in the bill and stated that they “do not align with the criteria in existing alerts,” specifically the Amber Alert, Endangered Missing Advisory, Feather Alert and Silver Alert.
“Our emergency alert system is dependent on people not being fatigued by it and thus ignoring it,” the governor wrote. “Our challenge is to achieve balance between the imperative to notify the public quickly in cases of missing persons or dangerous situations, but to not desensitize that same public outcry by sending too many notifications.”
Black women and girls are at increased risk of being harmed and sex trafficked. A recent report on human trafficking incidents across the country also found that 40% of sex trafficking victims were identified as Black women. Los Angeles County reported that 92% of girls in the juvenile justice system identified as victims of sex trafficking are Black, according to the Congressional Black Caucus.
“When someone who is missing is incorrectly listed as a runaway, they basically vanish a second time,” Bradford said in a statement after he introduced the bill on the Senate floor in March. “They vanish from the police detectives’ workload. They vanish from the headlines. In many ways, no one even knows they are missing. How can we find someone and bring them home safely when no one is really looking for them.”
Antonio Ray Harvey is a reporter for California Black Media.